How to: NYC Nursery School Admissions

Updated by Angela Tohl from a previous post written by AWNY

Important Dates

Private Nursery School

  • Applications Open: September straight after Labor Day for most nursery schools
  • Applications Close: vary depending on the school, usually by October/November

Public Pre-School (“Free Pre-K”)

Check the NYC Department of Education site for exact dates and sign up for email updates.

  • Applications Open: mid January
  • Applications Close: mid February

Summary of Options

NYC offers the following options for children turning 4 during the calendar year for that school year (which starts in September):

  • Private (Nursery School), and
  • Public (Free Pre-K)

Overview of NYC Nursery School

If your baby is 9-12 months old and you’d like to think about a program for nursery school, Labor Day is the time of the year to begin. Most nursery schools will begin taking applications right after the holiday – and if you’re going to apply you may as well do it on time.

You might have heard stories from friends who wrote six ‘essays’ – or more – so their two year old could sing, paint and glue. Or you might be happily unaware of such boring tales. But it always sounds worse than it is – there are lots of great schools to choose from and the process is really not a big deal as long as you know how it works.

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Photo credit: freeimages.com/Fran Gambín

Selecting the Nursery School

Close to home works for most! But some travel too – either way the best place for the list of all the options is the Parents League and then check out each school’s website for more details on the age of acceptance (usually between 18 months and 3 years depending on the school).

The Nursery School Applications Process

Each private nursery school has their own and 90% are online the day after Labor Day, but some require you to call and request it. Either way, a lot of the questions are basically the same for everyone. They want to understand as much as they can about your family, your child and how you think about education and parenting. It’s worth understanding the school’s philosophy before answering the questions! And if you’re serious about some of the tougher schools to get into, it’s worth preparing the answers before the applications open so you’re ready to fill it out on the day (it doesn’t usually vary much from the year before).

NYC Nursery School Deadlines

All schools will have their own and it’s usually about month or two later, but really the best time to submit them is as soon as possible; even if they have an October deadline they may close it early if they receive too many.

Playdates and Interviews

Once you’ve made it through the “lottery” for the applications, you’ll be invited to an interview and tour for the parents – all of this might sound ridiculous, but actually seeing the school and the teachers interacting with the children helps you solidify your own preferences. Your child may also be invited to a “playdate” so the teachers see how they interact – it’s not to judge your child so much as to try and balance the personalities in the class, so it’s nothing to worry about. And most of the kids seem to love it – an AWNY member shares that her daughter left the first one and had so much fun she asked when there would be cake (she thought it was a party!).

Nursery School Acceptance and Waitlists

You’ll hear back in February where you got in (all on the one day). If you got into more than one school, obviously let the school you don’t want know as soon as possible so they can offer it to another child. If you didn’t get in to the school of your choice, don’t panic, email them immediately and ask to stay on the waitlist. You never know.

Public Pre-school: Free Pre-K (For 4 Year Olds)

Importantly, don’t forget the free Pre-K option available in NYC. Public Pre-K is now available for New Yorkers so if your child turns 4 before December 31st they’re eligible to start a Pre-K program in September of that year. Not every school has them but you can learn about the Pre-K program on the NYC DOE site.

Public Pre-School: Free 3-K For All (For 3 Year Olds)

The City recently introduced Free 3-K For All, which is for children who turn 3 before December 31st. The program is currently available for School Districts 7 (South Bronx) and 23 (Brownsville, East New York, Ocean Hill), with the goal of bringing it to every community school district in NYC.  So check the NYC DOE 3-K For All site regularly for updates.

Have tips to share? Or need help?

Those are the basics but if you have any questions or additional tips, please let us know in the comments section. If you’d like a first-hand perspective, check with other Aussie parents via the Australian Mums & Dads in New York Facebook Group.

Stay tuned as we have more “School Series” guides to come.

Good luck!